The All-Bargain Free Agent Lineup
It's tough to find bargains via free agency. Players are past their peaks and are being compensated more for their past performance than their future. Still, a few deals slip through the cracks every year. Let's assemble a lineup with the best bargains at each position. I'll do the pitchers in another post.
C - Gregg Zaun. A million bucks, .360 OBP. I'll take that any time for my catcher. J.P. Ricciardi can complain about payroll, but there was no good reason to toss $5 mil at Bengie Molina this year.
1B - Craig Wilson. The first base crop is pretty thin on good players, let alone bargains. It's a tough position to fill; you need to OPS somewhere between .810-.880 just to be league average. A 30 year-old Wilson would probably fall right in the middle of that range. For four or five million bucks that's not the worst thing in the world.
2B - Mark Loretta. The power's all gone, but at least he still gets on base. Shouldn't cost more than $4MM.
SS - Craig Counsell. He's not the most exciting choice, but Julio Lugo's not going to be a bargain. Counsell can play good defense and get on base a little bit. It'd make for a powerless middle infield, but they'd be affordable and won't embarrass you.
3B - Aubrey Huff. Another lousy market. Huff will be league average for a third baseman if he picks it up to career levels next year. He'll turn 30 in December. If Huff makes $7MM next year, he definitely won't be a bargain. But this is the best I can do, and I'm not picking Pedro Feliz.
LF - David Dellucci/Eric Byrnes. This platoon assumes Byrnes isn't offered or doesn't accept arbitration, so I'm cheating a little bit. But the point is to combine the righty-mashing Dellucci with a lefty-masher. There are plenty of other possibilities to reach the same goal: swap Dellucci out for Frank Catalanotto, swap Byrnes out for Jose Cruz Jr. It would require a manager that understands and respects the platoon; I'll take Larry Dierker. If done right I think you could get a .900 OPS and a short-term commitment for less than $7MM. Sure beats breaking the bank on Carlos Lee.
CF - Jim Edmonds. If he'll take around $7MM annually for a year or two, that could be a decent bargain. Even on the decline Edmonds is a great hitter for his position. And remember, I'm using some versatile fourth outfielder types in left who can help fill in for thirty games in center.
RF - Jose Guillen. He had an ugly half-season, dealing with all sorts of injuries and culminating in elbow surgery. He adds solid defense to this group and can hold his own with the bat. I'm going to offer one year, $6MM and a chance to re-establish himself.
So here's the Opening Day lineup, with projected salary:
Dellucci - $4MM
Loretta - $4MM
Edmonds - $8MM
Guillen - $6MM
Wilson - $5MM
Huff - $5MM
Zaun - $1.5MM
Counsell - $2MM
My 1-8 hitters make less than $36MM. Throw in Byrnes and we're probably around $40MM for the starting lineup. There are problems. The lineup lacks any monster hitters. It's quite old. Defense at first and third base will be lacking. It may have health issues with Guillen and Edmonds. A few things would have to go right, but this would still be a lineup without an easy out.